Debate: Baptism & Salvation (vs. Jerry Smith), Pt. 2

Debate: Baptism & Salvation (vs. Jerry Smith), Pt. 2 February 24, 2022

Jerry (or Jerome) Smith is a Protestant acquaintance of mine (of the Baptist — or similar — variety, as far as I know), who, years ago, gave a presentation at my house in a group discussion. He is the editor of The New Treasury of Scripture Knowledge (1992): a remarkably encyclopedic and thorough revision of a classic Bible reference work.

I was good friends with his brother, the late Martin Smith: a devoted Baptist who often attended my group discussions and was an advisor to my old Protestant campus ministry (part of my “board”). I responded to Jerry’s article, Are baptism and the Eucharist necessary to salvation? (4-20-14), with “Debate: Is Baptism Necessary to Salvation?” (1-15-22). Without making any direct reference to my article or arguments, he produced a four-part preliminary treatment of the topic [one / two / three / four]. This present article deals with various parts of those.

His words will be in blue.

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Careful Bible readers can tell which of these two types of baptisms are referred to in any Bible context by observing that ritual water baptism requires a human administrator but real baptism does not involve a human administrator.

Ah, but baptism with the Holy Spirit did require a human administrator in at least two cases that I have found:

Acts 8:14-17 (RSV) Now when the apostles at Jerusalem heard that Sama’ria had received the word of God, they sent to them Peter and John, [15] who came down and prayed for them that they might receive the Holy Spirit; [16] for it had not yet fallen on any of them, but they had only been baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus. [17] Then they laid their hands on them and they received the Holy Spirit.

Acts 19:6 And when Paul had laid his hands upon them, the Holy Spirit came on them; and they spoke with tongues and prophesied.

In other cases (e.g., Peter, Ananias), God used at least the preaching or admonitions of people in conjunction with someone receiving the Holy Spirit.

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There are two major Christian groups, churches, or denominations I know of that believe it is necessary to be water baptized in order to receive remission of sins or in order to be born again or be saved.

Presumably the Catholic Church is one of these, and Orthodoxy is the second. But that’s not all there is. Lutheranism believes in baptismal regeneration, as do Churches of Christ and Disciples of Christ. Traditional Anglicanism also does, as do at least some Methodists (who came from Anglicanism).

That’s seven by my count, and indeed it is a vast majority of Christians throughout history (since Protestants didn’t exist for fifteen Christian centuries), and the majority today as well.

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Now consider: if ritual water baptism is essential for salvation, how could Paul possibly have said ‘I thank God that I baptized none of you’?

The answer is right in the context that you didn’t include:

1 Corinthians 1:10-15 I appeal to you, brethren, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree and that there be no dissensions among you, but that you be united in the same mind and the same judgment. [11] For it has been reported to me by Chlo’e’s people that there is quarreling among you, my brethren. [12] What I mean is that each one of you says, “I belong to Paul,” or “I belong to Apol’los,” or “I belong to Cephas,” or “I belong to Christ.” [13] Is Christ divided? Was Paul crucified for you? Or were you baptized in the name of Paul? [14] I am thankful that I baptized none of you except Crispus and Ga’ius; [15] lest any one should say that you were baptized in my name.

He says nothing against water baptism per se. Rather — quite obviously — he is glad he didn’t baptize these people precisely because they were starting to form factions and following human beings in an undue manner; over against Christ (Paul, Peter, Apollos): saying that they “belonged” to those leaders rather than to our Lord Jesus Christ, as His disciple.

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Here is Acts 2:38 in several versions, where the meaning is clearly according to what I am arguing (baptism brings about the forgiveness, or remission of sins; i.e., a key aspect of baptismal regeneration):

AMPC . . . Repent (change your views and purpose to accept the will of God in your inner selves instead of rejecting it) and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of and release from your sins; and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.

CEV Peter said, “Turn back to God! Be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ, so that your sins will be forgiven. Then you will be given the Holy Spirit.

ERV “Change your hearts and lives and be baptized, each one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ. Then God will forgive your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.

GW “All of you must turn to God and change the way you think and act, and each of you must be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ so that your sins will be forgiven. Then you will receive the Holy Spirit as a gift.

GNT “Each one of you must turn away from your sins and be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ, so that your sins will be forgiven; and you will receive God’s gift, the Holy Spirit.

Phillips “You must repent and every one of you must be baptised in the name of Jesus Christ, so that you may have your sins forgiven and receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.

MSG “Change your life. Turn to God and be baptized, each of you, in the name of Jesus Christ, so your sins are forgiven. Receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.

NOG “All of you must turn to God and change the way you think and act, and each of you must be baptized in the name of Yeshua Christ so that your sins will be forgiven.

NCB “Repent, and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ so that your sins may be forgiven, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.

NIRV “All of you must turn away from your sins and be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ. Then your sins will be forgiven. You will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.

NLV “Be sorry for your sins and turn from them and be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ, and your sins will be forgiven. You will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.

NRSV “Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ so that your sins may be forgiven; and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.

NTE ‘Be baptized – every single one of you – in the name of Jesus the Messiah, so that your sins can be forgiven, and you will receive the gift of the holy spirit.

[see source and abbreviation information]

And a few more from my own Bible collection:

REB . . . then your sins will be forgiven . . .

Barclay . . . then your sins will be forgiven . . .

Williams . . . that you may have your sins forgiven . . .

Beck . . . so that your sins will be forgiven . . .

Goodspeed . . . in order to have your sins forgiven

So if you agree that the passage is about water baptism, these translations help with the interpretation of what the baptism does in relation to forgiveness / remission of sins (it brings it about).

That seems to be your argument: water baptism but no remission of sins. This would mean that the passage can’t be used as an example of baptism with the Holy Spirit.

In fact, the passage illustrates exactly what I argued in my article: (1) “forgiveness of sins;” (2) the indwelling of the Holy Spirit, which no unregenerate person could possess; (3) salvation (“save yourselves”); and (4) inclusion in the rank of saved “souls” (cf. Galatians 3:27).

Baptismal regeneration . . .

If you claim that other passages are about baptism with the Holy Spirit rather than water baptism, then I’ll go to the linguistic scholars and see what they think the passage is referring to.

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If it [Titus 3:5] were a reference to water baptism, this would be a contradiction to what Paul stated at the beginning of the sentence, “Not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to his mercy he saved us.” 

Paul (like Jesus Himself) has no problem whatever with tying works, — soaked in grace and allied with faith –, into salvation itself. He does this many times:

Romans 1:17 For in it the righteousness of God is revealed through faith for faith; as it is written, “He who through faith is righteous shall live.”

Romans 2:6-7 For he will render to every man according to his works: to those who by patience in well-doing seek for glory and honor and immortality, he will give eternal life; (cf. 2:8; 2:10)

Romans 2:13 For it is not the hearers of the law who are righteous before God, but the doers of the law who will be justified.

Romans 15:17-18 In Christ Jesus, then, I have reason to be proud of my work for God. For I will not venture to speak of anything except what Christ has wrought through me to win obedience from the Gentiles, by word and deed,

1 Corinthians 3:9 For we are God’s fellow workers; you are God’s field, God’s building. (cf. 3:8; Mk 16:20)

2 Corinthians 6:1 Working together with him, then, we entreat you not to accept the grace of God in vain.

2 Corinthians 8:6-7 Accordingly we have urged Titus that as he had already made a beginning, he should also complete among you this gracious work. [7] Now as you excel in everything — in faith, in utterance, in knowledge, in all earnestness, and in your love for us — see that you excel in this gracious work also.

Galatians 5:6-7 For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision is of any avail, but faith working through love. [7] You were running well; who hindered you from obeying the truth?

Galatians 6:7-9 Do not be deceived; God is not mocked, for whatever a man sows, that he will also reap. For he who sows to his own flesh will from the flesh reap corruption; but he who sows to the Spirit will from the Spirit reap eternal life. And let us not grow weary in well-doing, for in due season we shall reap, if we do not lose heart.

Ephesians 2:10 For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.

Philippians 2:12-13 Therefore, my beloved, as you have always obeyed, so now, not only as in my presence but much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling; for God is at work in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure.

1 Thessalonians 1:3 remembering before our God and Father your work of faith and labor of love and steadfastness of hope in our Lord Jesus Christ.

2 Thessalonians 1:7-12 . . . when the Lord Jesus is revealed from heaven with his mighty angels in flaming fire, inflicting vengeance upon those who do not know God and upon those who do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus. They shall suffer the punishment of eternal destruction and exclusion from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of his might, when he comes on that day to be glorified in his saints, and to be marveled at in all who have believed, because our testimony to you was believed. To this end we always pray for you, that our God may make you worthy of his call, and may fulfil every good resolve and work of faith by his power, so that the name of our Lord Jesus may be glorified in you, and you in him, according to the grace of our God and the Lord Jesus Christ.

1 Timothy 6:18-19 They are to do good, to be rich in good deeds, liberal and generous, thus laying up for themselves a good foundation for the future, so that they may take hold of the life which is life indeed.

Titus 1:16 They profess to know God, but they deny him by their deeds; they are detestable, disobedient, unfit for any good deed.

Titus 3:8 The saying is sure. I desire you to insist on these things, so that those who have believed in God may be careful to apply themselves to good deeds; these are excellent and profitable to men.

Titus 3:14 And let our people learn to apply themselves to good deeds, so as to help cases of urgent need, and not to be unfruitful.

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Dave, I am sure you are well aware of the Bible teaching about salvation. We are not saved by our works, but by our faith. If we have genuine faith in our Lord Jesus Christ, we are saved by that faith. The Holy Spirit then produces the fruit of the Spirit (Galatians 5:22, 23) in our lives which display works of righteousness as the result of our faith. You know well what is stated in Ephesians 2:8-10 and Titus 3:5 among many other Bible passages relevant to this great Bible theme.

Yes, I am well acquainted with the biblical view on salvation. We’re saved by grace alone (which is largely, though not exclusively, conveyed by sacraments) through faith (which without works is dead, so that it automatically includes works and cannot be abstractly separated from them). The Bible repeatedly states that works play an important role in the overall equation. I have collected 50 passages that teach precisely that.

The passage of the rich young ruler encapsulates biblical soteriology perfectly:

Luke 18:18 And a ruler asked him, “Good Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?”

This is exactly on point. How is one saved? So Jesus replied, “have faith in Me alone” right? Wrong! Here is what He said: “You know the commandments: ‘Do not commit adultery, Do not kill, Do not steal, Do not bear false witness, Honor your father and mother.’” (Lk 18:20). In Matthew 19:17 Jesus is even more explicit: “If you would enter life, keep the commandments.” Nothing about faith at all! How can that be?

Luke 18:21-22 And he said, “All these I have observed from my youth.” [22] And when Jesus heard it, he said to him, “One thing you still lack. . . .

So clearly if Jesus was a good Protestant, here was the golden opportunity to inform the rich young ruler and all of the many millions who would read this passage in Scripture how faith alone is the exclusive way to salvation. And so He said:

“Sell all that you have and distribute to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me.”

Hmmm: a work is the requirement for him to be saved and attain eternal life. Doesn’t fit very well with Protestant soteriology, does it? Jesus wouldn’t have made it through seminary. He didn’t know how to do the slogans correctly, or how to effectively witness . . .

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Photo credit: PublicDomainPictures (7-18-13) [Pixabay / Pixabay License]

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Summary: In-depth examination and intense dialogue with two Bible lovers on the important question of baptism & salvation. Is baptism necessary to be saved? Let the reader decide!

 

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